Sunday, April 17, 2016

New Atheism: Because Thinking Is Hard

75 years ago, the most prominent exponents of atheism were Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre. Today it's Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. Then, English-speaking atheists watched No Exit and read The Stranger, or at least pretended to have read it; today, New Atheists repeat Hitchens' would-be bonmot "religion poisons everything" and think of ways to insult religious believers with Facebook memes, and pay for billboards which are basically identical to those memes.

I suppose it's risky to actually try to understand people with whom one disagrees. What if one eventually understands so well that one no longer disagrees and becomes one of them? Why look at good things which some religious people do in the name of religion, when it could make things look more complicated than the memes showing clergy who are thieves and child molesters, and congregations who are blind, fearful, obedient, fleeced sheep? Yes, there are some clergy and some congregations who are like that. But others are somewhat different. Some New Atheists definitely do not want to talk about religious believers who do not fit their favorite stereotype, whether it's Christian congregations who actually use most of the collection-plate money for charity work instead of Super Fly lifestyles for the clergy; or Muslims who actually are peaceful and opposed to terrorism; or Muslims who do not advocate subservient roles for women, and actually don't torture, misfigure or kill women who are assertive; or whatever doesn't fit their pet stereotypes.

I agree with the New Atheists that belief in God or multiple gods is mistaken. I agree that this belief can have many negative effects. But I also think that New Atheism is having many negative effects. I don't think we're going to overcome religion by sneering at it. I don't think "We're all atheists -- I just believe in one less God than you do." is brilliant; on the contrary, everytime I see it on a sign someone's holding at a rally or on a billboard or a meme I just go: Uhhhhhhh, (That was a sound of disgust) that again? I really cannot imagine a Christian or a Muslim finding it clever, much less convincing. And of course Hindus and other polytheists are liable to feel both disgusted and slighted, treated as if they don't exist or don't matter.

How many minds are actually being changed by simpleminded garbage like that, or like holding up a sign next to someone holding up a sign with a religious message saying "FUCK THIS GUY", or a meme showing a collection plate and a caption comparing Christianity to a family of children paying their abusive father not to punish them, or the popular message "YOU KNOW IT'S NOT TRUE", etc? It all seems to me like a lot of people agreeing with each other and slapping each other on the back.

Eh. Maybe that's what they need, if they come from abusive fundamentalist backgrounds and have never before felt safe expressing disbelief, and never before met others who don't believe. Maybe they have a lot of hurt to get out of their systems, and need a place where they're allowed to vent.

See what I did there? I made an attempt to understand people whom I loathe for the constant stream of nonsense they produce. Because if we never understand them, how are we ever going to have any clue about how to interact with them in any way which is at all productive?

And, on the off-chance that someone is reading this who was one of those atheists who badly needed to know that there were others, who needed to escape from an abusive religious home; but now agrees with some of my critique of the New Atheist scene, which is beginning to annoy him or her, and wants to get a bit deeper -- welcome. There are a few others like us: atheists disenchanted with the New Atheists. I don't know whether we yet have a name, which we can use to distinguish ourselves from the New Atheists, to make it clear that we're not with them, that we realize "religion poisons everything" is a bit of an oversimplification, etc. I have suggested the name Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists.

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